Home » Uncategorized (Page 2)

Category Archives: Uncategorized

The White Temple – Ajarn Chalermchai’s Dream

Fifteen kilometers southwest of Chiang Rai stands a surreal, snowy white temple. It is known as the Wat at Rong Khun, but tourists simply call it the white temple and flock there in the thousands.  Entrance is free, from around 9 to 5 every day, and tourists arrive in groups, large and small, or privately in a taxi, as we did.  Apart from its natural beauty spots, half of the most important tourist sites in Thailand are palaces and temples, or Wats. Some of the beautiful palaces have Wats attached to them, and some of the Wats look like beautiful palaces. So much so that a friend warned me, it’s easy to have your fill and get wat-ed out. So I was reluctant to make a detour to see another temple, but we heard so much about it that we decided to go.

The entrance to the temple over a small bridge

The entrance to the temple over a small bridge

To begin with, the parking lot itself was dauntingly huge for such a small village so close to the Thai-Myanmar border. There were large groups of mostly Chinese and Thai tourists at the temple; smaller groups from a smattering of nearby Asian countries and a few Europeans. Picking up a free brochure available in several languages, one learns that the temple is a work in progress begun 16 years ago, that it was conceived and built by Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, an artist who was born in Chiang Rai. “I want to be good and valuable to my country. I want to create arts in my own style and to develop Thai Buddhist arts to be developed internationally. I want people of all nations to come and admire my works, like when they want to visit the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat.”20160525_104934

shapes reminiscent of mudras...

shapes reminiscent of mudras…

The art and architecture of the temple certainly is distinctly Thai. One sees shapes reminiscent of mudras made by the flowing hand movements of a Thai dancer. Chalermchai says he takes themes from ancient Thai murals, trying to create a modern synthesis that is recognizably and uniquely Thai. If the number of visitors is taken as a measure, then his ambition has certainly been realized. Within the temple are modern murals that face a statue of the Lord Buddha. “I want people to feel peace and happiness and to envision the kindness of the Lord Buddha to all beings,” says Chalermchai. “The mural shows the final conflict of the Lord Buddha’s own demon before he received enlightenment and freedom from immoral thoughts.” When asked about the images of George Bush and bin Laden in the demon’s eyes, the artist replies. “I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who crave to build weapons that kill. They segregate and therefore cannot find peace….”

Chalermchai expects to complete the temple in 90 years.He begins each day at 2 a.m. with an hour of meditation, then creates and sculpts. An artist whose wealth stems from the roughly 200 artworks he produced every year, he now devotes most of his time to the completion of the temple and currently produces around ten paintings a year. The entire site is kept spotlessly clean and supervised by zealous volunteers who ensure that tourists are modestly attired before they enter the temple. The toilets are guarded by a bronze hermaphrodite keeper.

The hermaphrodite custodian of the toilet, front...

The bronze hermaphrodite custodian of the toilet, front…

...and rear

…and rear

Concluding with the artist’s own words: “I want to discipline the mind to train me toward being a good person with clear thinking, speaking well and doing good deeds. We are all human and I want to give goodness to people. If we have love and forgiveness in our hearts, it will come out naturally. You need to practice patience before you can control your own mind.”

...I want to give goodness to people.

…I want to give goodness to people.


For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Living in Limbo – Streetside Portrait

I see this older man on every visit to the local supermarket. He notices me, because Vari and I are among the few people who park our bikes at the small stand and carry home all our shopping in bicycle saddle bags. He sells a newspaper, called the Augustin. The Augustin is an inclusive newspaper run by volunteers who have formed an association, a ‘verein’ that promotes tolerance and provides opportunity for marginalised members of society to earn a little money with dignity, selling issues of the paper on the streets. Not many people buy them.bikerack

My Augustin man is always well groomed, clean shaven and decently dressed. He stands by the bank of shopping trolleys outside the supermarket. Sometimes, when he sees an elderly lady fumbling with change to release a shopping trolley from the stand, he steps forward with a metal gadget from his pocket the size of a beer opener that releases a trolley. Some people take the trolley from him with a sideways glance or nod of acknowledgement. Sometimes not even that. A few people stop to talk to him. I bought an Augustin from him one day, as a gesture of support.

Last week he used his gadget with a flourish when I was entering the supermarket and presented me with a trolley. I stood and spoke with him for some time. He’s from Georgia, he said, and 62 years old, a professor of philology. He’s waiting for his papers to be processed. I’m not sure how much I can ask about why he’s here. He’s so dignified and reserved. Does he have family? Did he lose his job? Is he a political refugee? He’s not allowed to work, he said, and lives with the support of Caritas while waiting for his papers. Caritas is the catholic relief agency that does a lot of good work among refugees in Austria and elsewhere.

When I come home, I check the definition of philology in Wikipedia. Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history and linguistics, it says. I read a beautiful poem by John Milton when I was a child. Seeing the unemployed philologist reminded me of it. It’s called, When I Consider How my Light is Spent.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

The Honda Syndrome

A friend sent me a copy of an article from the New Yorker a few days ago. It was called “A Europe Full of Donald Trumps.” You can read the full text of the article here. The article underlines a widespread perception that most the world is turning right (whatever that means, since political rights and lefts are only meaningful from the standpoint of each individual). However, there does seem to be a worldwide return to nationalism, away from the heady concepts of globalisation and one world united by trade that seemed to promise a new era of international peace and prosperity at the turn of the millennium, less than two decades ago.


1980 Honda Accord hatchback

Way back in 1980, living in Austria, I bought a new car. At that time, Japanese cars were a rarity in this part of the world. Imagine my surprise when a friend from Sweden drove over in his brand new Honda Accord hatchback. It was a beautifully made car for its time, full of features that were expensive add-ons in comparable German cars that cost a lot more even in their bare bones version. So I bought a Honda Accord and as I drove my new car around the city, lo and behold, the streets of Vienna were full of Japanese cars, many of them Hondas! How could this happen overnight? Simply put, my perception had changed, and I was beginning to notice the variety of Japanese brands on the road once I had taken ownership of one myself.

Taking ownership is the key phrase here. Once I recognised the Honda syndrome for what it was, my perception of the world changed drastically. When I befriended people who were passionate about certain issues, I began to discover their world; their community, a whole universe that I previously never knew existed. As I explored these communities, I discovered many other parallel worlds, many other perceptions of reality, each one as real and as valid a paradigm, a world view, as the next. The world was no longer divided into left or right, vegans or carnivores, believers or agnostics, greens or browns,… the list goes on.

Despite the reality of Trump’s showing in the polls in the US, despite the reality of Norbert Hofer winning 36% of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections in Austria, we still live in a world where millions of people care about minorities; fight on behalf of the underprivileged and the voiceless; share their homes with refugees; avoid eating meat for the sake of their health or for the health of the planet; ride bicycles on their daily commute instead of driving; practice mindfulness, not as a current buzzword, but as a day-to-day practice; and love their neighbors as themselves. All this and more exist in the world today, in addition to its Donald Trumps. As I wrote in an earlier blog, A Whisky Bottle as a Metaphor for Life, the global glass is either half empty or half full, and it is our individual perspectives that color it.

See the author’s Amazon page to read more of his work.

Guest post by B.T.Lowry

This is a love letter. Like all love letters, this is full of emotional truths, however much one may quibble about facts.

Turkey’s 2.5 million Syrian refugees

The following text is copied from the blog of economist Larry Willmore, and I think it merits re-posting because of widespread reports in the media in Europe about Turkey’s non-cooperative stance about taking back refugees who have made the hazardous crossing to Europe. Really? Read on below…

image courtesy yenisafak.com

image courtesy yenisafak.com

We are bombarded daily with news of problems with the massive influx of Syrian refugees in Europe, Jordan and Lebanon but seldom hear about the much larger number of Syrian refugees in Turkey. The reason there is so little reporting from Turkey is that Syrian refugees there encounter little hostility. Moreover, significant numbers are able to work informally, often in businesses run by Syrians. The Turkish government recently began to issue a restricted number of work permits to refugees. Refugee employment would no doubt increase, along with wages and working conditions, if the tight restrictions were relaxed.

[T]he 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey have encountered less hostility than in Jordan and Lebanon—not surprising given Turkey’s population of 77 million …. Jordan and Lebanon face a significantly higher burden with over one million Syrian refugees in each country, representing an influx equal to, respectively, 20 and 25 percent of the native population.

It may also be that Turkey’s more open business environment has played a role in lowering tensions. ….

Over the last four years, about 4,000 formal tax-paying firms—employing thousands of workers, mostly Turkish—have emerged. And informal enterprises may multiply this number. …. [M]any of these [refugee] workers make less than minimum wage and have no social benefits. But in January 2016 Turkey’s official gazette announced the granting of work permits to refugees, though employment is capped at 10 percent of a firm’s workforce.

Omer M. Karasapan, “The impact of Syrian businesses in Turkey“, Future Development blog, Brookings, 16 March 2016.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Women and Wild Savages: Book Review

Synopsis: (from the Amazon website) At 18, Lina is an aspiring actress and the stunning daughter of Viennese coffeehouse owners. When the imperial capital’s most sought-after bachelor, Adolf Loos, unexpectedly proposes, she eagerly agrees. But the honeymoon is short-lived. Her “modern” husband might be friends with women activists but his publically progressive views do not extend to his young wife. Thank goodness for the sympathetic ear of Café Central’s beloved, old poet, Peter Altenberg. But when Adolf Loos unwittingly pushes Lina into the arms of his activist friend’s handsome son, Lina becomes entangled in a web of desire, jealousy and intrigue. No man’s love is unconditional. As the three friends rival to mold her into the perfect wife, muse and lover, Lina strives to recall the woman she once imagined herself to be. Fact and fiction weave together with history and romance in this tragic yet inspiring tale of Lina Loos’ struggle for love, liberation and self-fulfillment during her years of marriage to the renowned architect, Adolf Loos.
Set in the early 1900s in fin-de-siècle Vienna, Women and Wild Savages tells the timeless story of a person’s journey to recognize and be herself in a world determined to make her into someone else.


One of the first books I read about Austrian history nearly 4 decades ago was Frederic Morton’s hugely enjoyable “A Nervous Splendor.” This historical novel provided a vertical slice-of-life view of Viennese society in the closing decades of the Habsburg empire at the turn of the 19th century to the 20th. I then read many books about this fascinating period. William Johnston’s scholarly collection of essays, “The Austrian Mind” stands out, as well as Carl Schorske’s “Fin de Siècle Vienna.” Where Morton’s work gave a vertical view of life in the Vienna of the time, KC Blau’s novel gives a complementary, horizontal glimpse of Viennese society. Where Morton’s work was history written as fiction, this novel is more of a fiction written as history (although based on true events). Anyone who has enjoyed any one of the three above-mentioned books will surely give this novel a 5-star rating for its authentic recreation of the atmosphere and mores of the time. Readers who know nothing of Vienna will perhaps miss the authenticity of the period details but will surely enjoy the writing and the development of the characters. So while my personal opinion inclines to 5*, I’ve decided to rate it a 4* overall for the benefit of the average reader. I look forward to reading more of the “Vienna Muses” series as and when when they are published.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Hinkley. Oh no!

The political decision to power ahead with Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is the energy equivalent of appointing a tone deaf musical director to the London Symphony Orchestra. How much more evidence do Cameron and Co. need? A short litany of anti-Hinckley arguments should suffice.

2002 – British Energy bankrupted and rescued by British taxpayers to the tune of £10 billion (p.29, World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2011)
2005 – Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant, Unit 3, in Finland, built along the same design proposed for Hinkley 3. Construction began in July 2005, scheduled for completion in 2010 at a projected cost of €3 billion (£2.34 billion). Still incomplete in 2016 with total costs amounting to more than £6.6 billion so far and not a single unit of power generated.
China is offering to invest £6 billion in Hinckley while, in its own backyard, renewables outspend new nuclear five to one. (approx. £103 billion budgeted for nuclear upto 2020 compared to £62 billion spent on renewables in 2015 alone).
Hinkley 1

Hinkley 1

In a case of economics speaking truth to power, the OECD’s 2010 World Energy Outlook quietly increased the average lifetime of a nuclear power plant to 45-55 years, up 5 years from its 2008 edition.

Finally, the single paragraph below from p.31 of the 2011 Nuclear Energy Status Report (first link above) should make anyone sit up and pay attention.
It is important to note that the economics of nuclear energy are very different when considered from a societal point of view, rather than from a strictly corporate perspective. Most governments advocate the “polluter pays principle,” meaning that those who consume the energy from a nuclear plant should also pay for the wider impacts on society and the environment—including impacts associated with decommissioning and waste disposal. This assumes, however, that future generations will have the funds to carry out these hazardous tasks. The timescales for investment and return are so long that even the most conservative financing scheme will have a significant risk of failure. The mechanism to provide cash to pay for decommissioning nuclear facilities in the United Kingdom already has failed comprehensively, leaving undiscounted liabilities of some £100 billion ($165 billion) but few funds available, putting the burden on future taxpayers.
 How much more needs to be said?
Meanwhile, the BBC noted on 26-10-2005 “Wind turbine farms rejected.”
The exposed location of Hinkley Point meant that it was considered ideal for wind generation. However, a proposal to build 12 wind turbines close to the site of the nuclear power stations was turned down in October 2005.[4] The reason given by the local council for the rejection was safety fears over what would happen were a turbine blade to detach and hit “something or somebody”
For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Al Jazeera on Agarwood

Al Jazeera had an interesting report on the endangered Agarwood trees of Hong Kong. This fragrant tree is the reason for Hong Kong’s original name, phonetically, “Heung Gong” or fragrant harbor. The agarwood tree (aquilaria sinensis) grew plentifully all over Hong Kong and its surrounding islands. The tree was widely found in southern mainland China as well. The tree produces a light odorless wood. However, the wood is frequently attacked by a fungus. The tree defends itself by producing a dark, aromatic resin that over time infects the heartwood and infuses it. This valuable heartwood fetches prices of US$ 1000 to 2000 per kilo. Even more valuable is pure agarwood oil distilled from the wood. For example, an Indonesian supplier offers it (see link here), presumably legally sourced, for US$ 10,000 to 12,000 per 100 ml.

A stand of endangered agarwood trees

A stand of endangered agarwood trees

The agarwood stocks in Mainland China are long gone, hoovered up by traders in the rush to economic development. Hong Kong’s stands have been mainly untouched, protected by the sound administration and relatively uncorrupt bureaucracy left behind after colonial rule. Now these stocks are under increasing threat as more and more poachers take what they can under cover of darkness from remote corners of Hong Kong’s islands.

Sadly, in their clandestine haste to harvest the wood, the thieves indiscriminately cut down all agarwood trees, regardless of whether they’ve been fungus infected or not. Which means that they cut down an entire stand and take only the infected heartwood they find. No wonder that Grace has her work cut out for her!

The resin of the agarwood trees of Assam (aquilaria agallocha) is considered the finest in the world. However, different species of this tree also grow in Vietnam, Cambodia (more on that in the forthcoming book The Trees of Ta Prohm), New Guinea and Burma (Myanmar). A propos Myanmar, congratulations to the NDP on their recent sweeping electoral victory. Best wishes to the newly elected representatives and wisdom to Aung San Suu Kyi in the difficult transition from military to civilian rule.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Read a sample from “Grace in the South China Sea” here.

Six Degrees of Separation





6 degrees of separation

6 degrees of separation (image courtesy quotesgram.com)


Liberty vs Justice

Just read an article in The Atlantic by Kaveh Waddell entitled “The Information Revolution’s Dark Turn.” A thoughtful piece based on an interview with Scottish philosopher Alistair Duff. The article reminds me that, in this age where technology, especially information technology, dominates the world economy, we need the arts and philosophy more than ever.

We need artists, philosophers, ecologists and other deep thinkers to observe and articulate trends in society, pointing out the opportunities and pitfalls that lie in wait for the world, striking a balance between the mindless daily diet of horrors and disasters served by the media and the treacly reassurances spouted by politicians in search of votes. The two following sentences resonated with me and I’ve shared the text in italics below.

The ultimate value is not liberty: It is justice. Liberty has to fit within the context of social justice. And where it violates justice, I’m afraid justice trumps liberty.

The first thought that comes to my mind is: try telling that to the Donald. In his case, liberty (donald) trumps justice!

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.